German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pleaded with her compatriots to cut down on socialising as the country reported its highest single-day death toll of the coronavirus pandemic.
Germany is gradually moving towards a tighter lockdown, at least for a limited period after Christmas, as new virus cases remain stubbornly high – and are even beginning to creep higher – despite a partial shutdown that started on November 2.
The national disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 590 deaths related to Covid-19 over the past 24 hours – more than 100 higher than the week-old previous record.
It counted 20,815 new daily cases, compared with 17,270 a week earlier. Germany, which has 83 million people, has now recorded nearly 1.22 million cases, including 19,932 deaths in the pandemic.
Mrs Merkel told Germany’s parliament: “We are in a decisive, perhaps the decisive, phase of fighting the pandemic. The figures are at much too high a level.”
She described the rising number of people requiring intensive care and dying as “very alarming”.
Mrs Merkel has consistently advocated decisive action but has often had to move more slowly because, in highly decentralised Germany, the country’s 16 state governments are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions. She and state governors meet periodically to co-ordinate measures.
Restaurants, bars, leisure and sports facilities are currently closed, and hotels are closed to tourists, but schools and non-essential shops remain open.
Germany managed to avoid the high number of infections and grim death tolls seen in other large European nations in the spring, and continues to have a much lower overall fatality rate than countries such as the UK, France and Spain. But the current numbers are not encouraging.
Mrs Merkel noted a recommendation from a national academy of scientists and academics for Germans to reduce their social contacts starting next week and put in place a “hard lockdown” from December 24 to January 10.
“We would do well to really take seriously what scientists tell us,” she said.
Mrs Merkel called for state governments to consider closing schools early before Christmas and said that people hopping from one mulled wine stand over the holidays to the next is “unacceptable” in view of the daily death figures.
“If we have too many contacts before Christmas and then it’s our last Christmas with our grandparents, then we will have been negligent,” she said.
Some state governors are already moving to tougher restrictions. The eastern state of Saxony, currently the worst-hit, will close schools and most stores on Monday until January 10. Its southern neighbour, Bavaria, is introducing measures such as a night-time curfew in its worst-affected areas and demanding more home schooling and stricter border controls.